However, numerous witnesses and video evidence suggests that Brancheau was pulled by the arm, not the ponytail.
Though neither Cowperthwaite nor Hargrove say they consider themselves activists (Hargrove calls himself an “advocate”), there is one notion that permeates Blackfish: “At this point, I do not believe that killer whales should be kept in captivity,” Hargrove says. “SeaWorld is the largest in the world, they definitely have the most money, but it’s still not enough. Especially since they don’t give that money back to the animals that are helping them to make a profit.”
At this stage, it’s not likely that SeaWorld will give up its killer whales. As a publicly traded entity, the company is obligated to make money for its shareholders, and in its SEC filings, the killer whale shows are an integral part of the park’s business model—the filings boast that the parks own the largest captive killer world population in the world (29 whales), run an innovative killer whale breeding program and, of course, produce live whale shows featuring the “iconic” Shamu.
To eliminate these giants would be to eliminate one of the main things that makes SeaWorld a unique and attractive investment.
In fact, Hargrove says, over the past few years the park has actually increased its artificial insemination program, to his dismay: “So now there’s more whales and less space in aging facilities from the 1980s,” he says. He claims he understands that SeaWorld can’t just release its captive whales into the wild, but he thinks the company should be enlightened enough to recognize that keeping killer whales in captivity forever isn’t in the animals’ best interests. “First, we strip these animals from the ocean, now we forcibly inseminate them, and we do it just for profit,” he says. “It just doesn’t fit with 2013. I think people will realize that when they see the film. … And for SeaWorld, I want them to respond by giving these whales bigger and better pools with more enrichment. And I want them to stop the breeding program, so we don’t have these killer whales in captivity forever.”
Cowperthwaite shares his sentiments, but she says her movie’s intent is not to drive home an agenda. Rather, she says, she wants people to draw their own conclusions: “I believe that killer whales are absolutely not suited to captivity,” she says, “that SeaWorld needs to be urged to end its captive breeding program and eventually phase out killer whales in captivity. … If my film can be an agent of change, I’m honored, but my intention when I made it was just simply to tell the truth. And I have to trust my audiences that once they see it, they’re going to make good decisions for themselves and their families.”
Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite; writ. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres; feat. Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall (PG-13)
Opens Aug. 9 at the Bijou